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Domestic violence needs a coordinated and systemic response from the justice system. While Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code is one of the most significant criminal law reforms protecting women’s rights, it is not enough. The initial demand was for a law to prevent only dowry related violence. Sec 498A was thus introduced in the IPC in 1983 closely followed by Sec 304B which defined the special offence of dowry-related death of a woman in 1986 and the related amendments in the Indian Evidence Act 1872.  Supreme Court has been giving judgments on misuse of IPC 498a for many number of years, and they had even asked the law ministry to consider amending it.  Many states have police circulars already on doing investigation or taking permission of higher police like DCP before arresting under 498a, but there is no guarantee that these rules are followed. The fact that Section 498-A is a cognizable [1]and non- bailable offence has lent it a dubious place of pride amongst the provisions that are used as weapons rather than shield by disgruntled wives.

Section 498A Of IPC

498A. Husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty.—Whoever, being the husband or the relative of the husband of a woman, subjects such woman to cruelty shall be pun­ished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and shall also be liable to fine.

Explanation.—For the purpose of this section, “cruelty” means—

(a) any willful conduct which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the woman to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman; or

(b) harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security or is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.

How do women misuse?

Judiciary has taken an official stand of not punishing wives and her relatives when they attack the husband or his relatives physically .At times, such attacks are either fatal in nature or injure the man severely. Also, there have been instances where women report false complaints of cruelty or threaten to do so. As soon as the complaint is filed under section 498A in any police station the police officers directly arrests the husband and his relatives. This has proved to be very harmful for the family of the husband as the burden of proof lies on him.  Sometimes, Judges do not dismiss the cases even if the wife does not attend the cases for years together. Judges take months together to merely decide on bail petitions. Judges grant interim bail and then keep on extending the bail for every 5 or 7 days and thus the man is neither arrested nor free but keeps on attending court dates without any reason. After giving interim bail, the cases are referred to mediation where the man is psychologically tortured to bow down before wife’s demands and if he does not do so, his bail is canceled and he is sent to jail.
Although there have been several debates on making this section non- cognizable and bailable but no actual amendment has taken place, reason being this will prove harmful for those women who are not filing false complaints.

CONCLUSION

Section 498-A IPC was introduced with avowed object to combat the menace of harassment to a woman at the hands of her husband and his relatives. The fact that Section 498-A IPC is a cognizable and non-bailable offence has lent it a dubious place of pride amongst the provisions that are used as weapons rather than shield by disgruntled wives . The simplest way to harass is to get the husband and his relatives arrested under this provision. [2]

In few cases, like Preeti gupta  v State of Jharkhand [3]it has been observed that some wives are misusing section 498A of IPC but completely doing away with this provision is not the solution. Therefore, in order to move towards an effective working of Sec 498A and other criminal law remedies, it is crucial that we put in place a new model of policing – the victim empowerment model.  [4]

Certain guidelines were given by the Law Commission to mitigate misuse of this section in 2012.

  • FIR has to be registered as per law if it discloses an offence and the

Police Officer has reason to suspect the commission of offence (as laid down in Section 157).

  • On receiving the FIR , the officer should visit the house of victim immediately and initiate the initial process of investigation.
  • Steps should be taken to refer the matter to the mediation centre if any, or district legal aid centre.
  • In case of NRIs the passports are seized and order of impounding is passed.

Now the present scenario is that the offence under section 498A is non- compoundable. The government can adopt measures to check the misuse of this section so that men who are innocent do not suffer. There has been a debate on making this section a little lenient for men but no amendments have taken place due to the position/ status of women in our country. Justice C.V. Sirpurkar of the High Court of Madhya Pradesh, Jabalpur bench has held in a recent judgment that if there are no specific and credible allegations against the relatives of the husband with necessary particulars, they should not be made to suffer the ignominy of a criminal trial.

[1] Generally, cognisable offence means a police officer has the authority to make an arrest without a warrant and to start an investigation with or without the permission of a court.

[2] Arnesh Kumar Vs. State of Bihar, 2014 (8) SCC 273

[3] AIR 2010 SC 3363

[4] A model that will put in place pro- arrest procedures and social service networks at the police station in order to give the victim alternative support services

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